Hajime Moriyasu’s Samurai Blue side thrashed a fancied Iran 3-0 in the first semi-final on Monday. Image Credit: AFP

Al Ain: Tsukasa Shiotani scored a goal the last time he played at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium. The 30-year-old Japanese is hoping for an encore when his team meet Qatar in Friday’s final of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup at the same venue.

A last-minute call into Hajime Moriyasu’s Samurai Blue side that went rampant, to deliver a 3-0 thrashing of fancied Iran in the first semi-final last Monday, Shiotani has been with Al Ain for the past two seasons.

Honestly, I don’t know what made the coach [Hajime Moriyasu] call me, but I am more than grateful for this opportunity so late in my career.

- Tsukasa Shiotani | Japanese defender

He caught the eye with his long-distance wonder strike in Japan’s 2-1 win against Uzbekistan earlier in this competition.

The 30-year-old, however, distinctly remembers his goal for Al Ain as they surprised all, including themselves, while going down 4-1 against European giants Real Madrid in the final of the Fifa Club World Cup a little more than a month ago at the same venue.

This time, however, Shiotani wants his scoring capacity to have a bigger impact.

Japanese players during training
Japanese players during training ahead of their Asian Cup final against Qatar at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Japan Football Association

“Scoring a goal against Real Madrid was like a dream. But a bigger dream was when I got a call to the national squad. Honestly, I don’t know what made the coach [Hajime Moriyasu] call me, but I am more than grateful for this opportunity so late in my career,” Shiotani said.

“I can’t even explain the feeling of being in the final. We are now just one game away from being the champions of Asia, and my dream can go on,” he added.

With the UAE hosting the continental competition, Shiotani was initially scheduled to take a few days off and be in Europe for a short break. However, his former coach at Sanfrecce Hiroshima made the call and Shiotani found himself in place of the injured Hidemasa Morita in the Japan squad.

“I couldn’t have been happier with representing Japan once again,” Shiotani asserted.

“I’ve had success with Al Ain while winning the UAE Pro League, and then against all expectations we made it to the final of the Fifa World Clubs Cup [in the second half of December]. And now, we are one step away from realising a dream of being the champions of Asia for a fifth time. I couldn’t be happier,” he added.

Shiotani is equally adept as a winger [with Al Ain] or as a main holding midfielder [as done by Moriyasu]. On Monday, when he came in as a substitute, Japan had already taken the lead in the 56th minute.

Supported by his former Al Ain teammate Caio Fernandes — who flew in from Lisbon where he’s joined Benfica — Shiotani ensured the swift Iranians didn’t have much of a look at the Japanese goal.

“The last time I played at the Zayed Sports City Stadium, I scored [against Real]. This time we are up against another formidable team like Qatar and I hope I can score again and my goals make the difference in the result,” he said.